Before science determined what was really going on, people saw mistletoe (Viscum album) as a magical plant, a bushy little shrub with no roots that mysteriously remained green, high up in tree branches, while the leaves fell all around it.
It was eventually discovered to be a partial parasite. While its few green leaves photosynthesise to some extent, it gets much of its nutrition by sinking its roots into its host plant to tap its sap.
Hosts with the most
You’ll probably have noticed it on apple trees more than other hosts, as well as lime trees. The National Mistletoe Survey confirms these are the top two hosts followed by hawthorn, poplar and maple then willow, crab apple and false acacia (Robinia). Until last year, when someone cut it down, there was an impressive clump in an evergreen cotoneaster growing in a park near me in Northamptonshire.
Most of us get our Christmas mistletoe from a greengrocer’s or from a market but it’s well worth trying to grow your own. Cordon and espalier apple trees are the ideal hosts – the mistletoe likes apples and the low height of dwarf trained trees makes the process easy to manage.
►RHS advice: how to sow mistletoe seed
One thing to keep in mind is that mistletoe comes as male or female plants and, of course, like holly, only the females carry berries. So it’s wise to sow a number of seeds in different places to be sure you end up with plants of both.
And don’t use the mistletoe berries that have been hung in the house over Christmas, they were probably harvested while immature and will also have dried out and become less viable. Use fresh berries and “sow” them as soon as they’re picked in late winter or early spring.
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RHS advice: how to sow mistletoe seed
Grow your own Christmas greenery